There is no such thing, really, as a truly blank sheet at the start of a new term, especially as a leader. It is, rather, the inheritance of an existing mantle and the re-envisioning or renewal of confidence that we need to lead one another forward in service of others. And this requires two things – humility and a willingness to dance and celebrate. Hence the picture of the tancici dum on the banks of the Vltava in Prague. This building, by the way, commonly known as Ginger and Fred, is one of the most stimulating replies ever to the observation that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”.
Over Christmas I had the experience of God reminding me, almost audibly, that a failure to rejoice is a serious sin. That we need to give rein to the deepest thanksgiving of which we are capable, and take joy in every simplicity and each grace and generosity seems to me to be the most obvious way of repenting of a failure to rejoice, and moreover, it leads directly towards humility, which must be the root of joy. This is hard to sustain, and requires re-programming of the mind through persistent repentance, even for Christians, never mind those for whom joy is not a life goal.
It was with this in my mind that I invited staff on Monday to join together for prayer to commit one another and the year ahead to the Father of our spirits. I began with Psalm 25, a place of humility for David, and hence for us:
In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.
I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.
All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
Ten of us gathered together – I had no idea when I asked, how many might show up, and it is a shame in one sense that we have not done this before. But it gave us a chance to humble ourselves before God and to see if, through the prayers that were prayed, or in the silences between, He might say anything to our hearts.
For the first part of this term we are studying faithfulness, or, for those who love anagrams, i snuffle hats! When we came to the end of the Values for Life materials that we have been using to study the different Christian values that underpin our life and conduct, it only occurred to us afterwards that this one was missing. And because it is foundational to any understanding at all of relationship, of God’s covenant with us through the narrative of the bible, whether Jewish or Christian, and in areas such as stewardship of the earth and the way we build communities (Wendell Berry on faithfulness to the earth and to community is best read here), it almost needs to be studied more deeply than some of the others, because it impacts so deeply on us at school.
We could talk about the the impact of faithfulness on our friends, the impact of faithfulness to our calling and to our work and the duty that lies before us. Chiefly, of course, it impacts on both as staff and children at school most deeply in the quality of sexual fidelity and the faithfulness of married couples to get and stay married to each other. The destructiveness of unfaithfulness is severe and threatens the long term stability of communities, families and eventually, countries. Because we are human only in relationship, then the quality of the trust in those relationships is the key to the quality of our communal lives. This is why marriage is so critical – not a bourgeois convention, as those on the left would sometimes have us believe – but a statement that mutual commitment and faithfulness is separate from and more important than, sex, and that sex is therefore a representation and feature of marriage, not a precursor to it. If it is true (and it is) that in having sex you are joined in spirit with one another, how much more important to allow a covenant of faithfulness to be expressed before that level of intimacy is enjoyed. This has, therefore, important implications about sex before marriage as well as outside of it.
That this all impacts on the parenting of children and their mental and emotional health is obvious to anyone who has eyes. But having made a covenant of faithfulness in marriage is just the start. People who have learnt to be faithful in marriage will eventually begin to learn and appreciate faithfulness to their community and to the land they inhabit. Community life and stewardship of creation will replace individualism and the rape of the earth, because with faithfulness comes a deepening sense of wonder, and with that comes a sense of dependence on others, on the earth for our food and wellbeing, and on flourishing communities in which to express our personhood and generosity. And with all that comes gratitude, a sense of the grace of it all and the humility that is necessary to receive that grace, and in the end, joy.
Pie in the sky? Could be, but nobody seems to have tried it for ages, so we don’t know really. It would cost too much to try. When we look at where it has been tried, in Mennonite and Amish communities, it seems to be doing just fine. Jesus called it the kingdom of heaven, partly because of what it feels like, heavenly.
Dance, humble ourselves before each other, cultivate faithfulness in all our relationships. We could do worse, surely?